Enhancing mutual learning in developing a cross-disciplinary team

By Eric Schearer and Gemma Jiang

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1. Eric Schearer (biography)
2. Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can newly forming cross-disciplinary teams develop effective strategies for working together?

We provide lessons from our experience preparing a cross-disciplinary research proposal for which we leant heavily on the mutual learning mindsets and norms which are the central elements for the Team Effectiveness Model for Science (Schwarz and Bennett, 2021). The principal investigator (Schearer) enlisted the help of a leadership consultant (Jiang).

Mutual learning mindsets and norms

As shown in the figure below, mutual learning comprises a mindset, composed of core values and assumptions, plus specific behaviors derived from the mindset that, together, are essential for effective working relationships.

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Principles for welcoming all voices

By Keith McCandless

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Keith McCandless (biography)

Which principles would allow us to manage and lead groups that aspire to include all voices in shaping next steps and the future?

Liberating Structures is an approach to working together that puts innovative and facilitative power in the hands of everyone. It does this through 33 adaptable microstructures that allow groups of people of any size to be all-inclusive and to unleash everyone’s power.

Liberating Structures is based on ten principles that help guide choices and keep a community together while moving toward their set purpose.

Liberating Structures practice and principles come alive through active engagement. The path is co-evolving, iterative, and mutually shaped. As shown in the table below, each principle is couched as follows: When Liberating Structures are part of everyday interactions, it is possible to…

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Listening-based dialogue: Circle of dialogue wisdom / Diálogo basado en la escucha: Círculos de diálogo entre saberes

By Adriana Moreno Cely, Darío Cuajera Nahui, César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez, Tom Vanwing and Nelson Tapia Ponce

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1. Adriana Moreno Cely; 2. Darío Cuajera Nahui; 3. César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez; 4. Tom Vanwing; 5. Nelson Tapia Ponce (biographies)

A Spanish version of this post is available.

How can marginalised knowledge systems really make themselves heard in collaborative research? What’s needed for research decolonisation to properly recognise Indigenous and local knowledge? How can power imbalances be bridged to ensure that everyone has an equal voice?

We describe the “circle of dialogue wisdom” as a methodological framework to reconceptualise participation, empowerment and collaboration. The framework has 6 phases, which should be seen as spiral and iterative rather than linear.

The six phases, shown in the figure below are:

    1. Knowing each other
    2. Concerting rules for participation
    3. Creating safe spaces
    4. Building affection
    5. Opening spaces for co-creating solutions
    6. Taking solutions to practice (Moreno-Cely, et al., 2021).

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Theory U: A promising journey to embracing unknown unknowns

By Vanesa Weyrauch

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Vanesa Weyrauch (biography)

How can we best live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world? How can we shift from a worldview that looks to predict and control what is to be done through plans and strategies to being present and flexible in order to respond effectively as unexpected changes take place? How can we be open to not knowing what will emerge and embrace uncertainty as the opportunity to co-create and learn?

One powerful and promising way forward is Theory U, a change methodology developed by Otto Scharmer and illustrated below. Scharmer introduced the concept of “presencing”—learning from the emerging future. The concept of “presencing” blends “sensing” (feeling the future possibility) and “presence” (the state of being in the present moment). It acknowledges that we don’t know the answers. Staying at the bottom of the U until the best potential future starts emerging requires embracing uncertainty as fertile soil.

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Using discomfort to prompt learning in collaborative teams

By Rebecca Freeth and Guido Caniglia

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1. Rebecca Freeth (biography)
2. Guido Caniglia (biography)

We know that reflecting can make a marked difference to the quality of our collective endeavour. However, in the daily busyness of inter- and trans- disciplinary research collaborations, time for reflection slides away from us as more immediate tasks jostle for attention. What would help us put into regular practice what we know in theory about prioritising time to reflect and learn?

Discomfort sometimes provides the necessary nudge in the ribs that reminds us to keep reflecting and learning. The discomfort of listening to the presentation of a colleague you like and respect, but having very little idea what they’re talking about.

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Adaptive social learning for systemic leadership

By Catherine Hobbs

Catherine Hobbs (biography)

What’s involved in developing human capacity to address complexity, taking a mid- to longer-term viewpoint than is usual? How can we create the conditions in which people can cope with the daily challenges of living in a complex world and flourish? What form of leadership is required to inspire and catalyse this transformation?

Framework for adaptive social learning

The need for systems thinking is often referred to, but rarely considered, as a rich and comprehensive resource which could be developed further and applied.

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Improving transdisciplinary arts-science partnerships

By Tania Leimbach and Keith Armstrong

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1. Tania Leimbach (biography)
2. Keith Armstrong (biography)

Collaborations with scientists have become a major focal point for artists, with many scientists now appreciating the value of building working relationships with artists and projects often going far beyond illustration of scientific concepts to instead forge new collaborative frontiers. What is needed to better “enable” and “situate” arts–science partnerships and support mutual learning?

Our research looked at the facilitation of arts–science partnerships through the investigation of two unique collaborative projects, developed at two geographically distinct sites, initiated by artist Keith Armstrong. One was enacted with an independent arts organisation in regional Australia and the other at a university art gallery in Sydney, Australia.

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Skilful conversations for integration

By Rebecca Freeth and Liz Clarke

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1. Rebecca Freeth (biography)
2. Liz Clarke (biography)

Interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle complex problems is challenging! In particular, interdisciplinary communication can be very difficult – how do we bridge the gulf of mutual incomprehension when we are working with people who think and talk so very differently from us? What skills are required when mutual incomprehension escalates into conflict, or thwarts decision making on important issues?

It is often at this point that collaborations lose momentum. In the absence of constructive or productive exchange, working relationships stagnate and people retreat to the places where they feel safest: their own disciplines, their offices, or the colleagues who are on their ‘side’. As a consequence, prospects for meaningful collaboration and integration dwindle.

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Synthesis of knowledge about participatory modeling: How a group’s perceptions changed over time

By Rebecca Jordan

Rebecca Jordan (biography)

How do a group’s perceptions change over time, when members across a range of institutions are brought together at regular intervals to synthesize ideas? Synthesis centers have been established to catalyze more effective cross-disciplinary research on complex problems, as described in the blog post ‘Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure‘, by Andrew Campbell.

I co-led a group synthesizing ideas about participatory modeling as one of the activities at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). We met in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, four times over three years for 3-4 days per meeting. Our task was to synthesize what is known about participatory modeling tools, processes, and outcomes, especially in environmental and natural resources management contexts.

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Three tasks for transdisciplinary bridge builders

By Roderick J. Lawrence

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Roderick J. Lawrence (biography)

Human groups and societies have built many kinds of bridges for centuries. Since the 19th century, engineers have designed complex physical structures that were intended to serve one or more purposes in precise situations. In essence, the construction of a bridge is meant to join two places together. What may appear as a mundane functional structure is built only after numerous decisions have been made about its appearance, cost, functions, location and structure. Will a bridge serve only as a link and passage, or will it serve other functions?

In discussing three things the transdisciplinary research community can do to build bridges, I use “building bridges” as a metaphor. I discuss a bridge as a human-made artefact that is attributed meaningful form. It is created intentionally for one or more purposes.

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Impacts of social learning in transformative research

By Flurina Schneider, Lara M. Lundsgaard-Hansen, Thoumthone Vongvisouk, and Julie G. Zähringer

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Flurina Schneider (biography)

How can science truly support sustainability transformations?

In our research projects we often find that the very process of co-producing knowledge with stakeholders has transformative impacts. This requires careful design and implementation. Knowledge co-production in transdisciplinary and other research leads to social learning and can make a difference in the lives of those involved.

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Designing for impact in transdisciplinary research

By Cynthia Mitchell, Dena Fam and Dana Cordell

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Cynthia Mitchell (biography)

Starting with richly articulated pictures of where we would like to be at some defined point in the future has powerful consequences for any human endeavour. How can we use such “Outcome Spaces” to guide the conception, design, implementation, and evaluation of transdisciplinary research?

Our Outcome Spaces Framework (Mitchell et al., 2017) considers three essential impacts:

(1) improving the situation,
(2) generating relevant stocks and flows of knowledge, and
(3) mutual and transformational learning by the researcher/s and involved participants.

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